King Arthur turning HKU into political battlefield

January 29, 2016 14:49
HKU Council chairman Arthur Li is in a war footing against the pro-democracy Civic Party. Photo: HKEJ

It's now clear that the University of Hong Kong is the latest political battlefield between the pro-democracy camp and Beijing authorities.

The confirmation came from no less than Arthur Li, the newly appointed chairman of the university's governing council, who accused the Civic Party of instigating the recent student protests on the campus such as the campaign in support of the appointment of former law dean Johannes Chan as pro vice chancellor and Tuesday's rally outside the venue of the HKU Council meeting.

Speaking in a press conference on Thursday, the former education chief maintained that only a handful of students were participating in the campaign for a review of the structure of the HKU Council and questioning senior management appointments.

Most of the students did not care about those issues, Li said.

But if that is true, why is King Arthur so eager to condemn the Civic Party in front of reporters for alllegedly interfering in the school's internal affairs and mobilizing students for protests inside the campus?

This early, he is showing that getting back at his critics will be a key mission of his administration as head of the HKU Council. 

At the press conference, Li also chided the students for lacking calmness and decorum, which he believes are needed in any productive discussion of issues affecting the university. He also said the Civic Party was behind the student protest on Tuesday night.

Li's method of handling critics is nothing new. It's a tactic so often used by the Communist Party in dealing with its enemies: labeling them as instigators or plotters and condemning them in public.

Beijing has used the same approach in fending off criticisms from former governor Chris Patten and former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, among many others that it had attacked in public for standing up against the Communist Party.

And so in virtually declaring war against the Civic Party, King Arthur is following the script written by the central authorities in Beijing.

Let's review what Li said in the press conference, and see if there is any substance to his allegations against the Civic Party.

First, he accused Civic Party leader Alan Leong, and his predecessor Audrey Eu, of inciting the students to revolt against the university council. He didn't bother to cite instances that would support his allegation.

Unsurprisingly, Leong and Eu fired back at Li, accusing him of peddling lies and adamantly denying that the party had anything to do with the university's internal affairs.

So what does this declaration of war mean to the HKU and Hong Kong people?

For one thing, the HKU will now become a political battlefield between pro-democracy forces, on one hand, and Beijing and its followers in Hong Kong on the other.

It's now a matter of gaining control of this prestigious university and its proud heritage to secure legitimacy and moral high ground in the post-handover era.

So that makes King Arthur not only the chairman of the HKU governing council but also the head of the university's struggle committee.

A struggle committee is a group of pro-Beijing activists who organized labor strikes and violent attacks to challenge the British rule during the 1967 riots.

What Li said during the press conference reminds us of the approach used by the pro-Beijing activists in their political struggle.

The HKU population -- the students, faculty, alumni and non-teaching staff -- must stand with the leaders, otherwise they will be labeled as part of the opposition camp and will be attacked by the loyalists.

In such a polarization of forces, the student activists cannot expect to have reasonable debate or discussion with the university officials, but censure and intimidation.

Some Hong Kong people may think that it is better for the students to go back to their classrooms and study, instead of protesting.

But the fact is the students are getting hurt by the changes being instituted in the university, and the creation of a pro-establishment, pro-Beijing environment on the campus.

The students are aware of these creeping changes, and they feel the need to raise public awareness regarding these issues. It is not only for the sake of the university, but in the interest of the entire community.

Such changes won't appear in black and white, but through subtle moves such as the appointment of council members, the intake of more mainland students, the recruitment of mainland teachers, and handsome donations from pro-Beijing tycoons.

All these will only have one goal, which is to make HKU a pro-Beijing institution.

Now, King Arthur has shut the door for a dialogue with the students, which is understandable. He could gain more by widening the influence of the Beijing camp in the university.

So even if the HKU Council has called for a review of the school's governing structure, students cannot expect much from it. Such a move could be a tool to divert the students' attention and offer them false hopes that the governance of the school will improve.

It is sad to see this respected institution being dragged into the political battlefield. But it won't stop, and other sectors should brace for similar upheavals.

Beijing is determined to take control of Hong Kong society, and will spare no effort to achieve its ends.

Unlike before when dialogue was the preferred mode of interaction, the present administration led by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is ready to resort to confrontation in dealing with opposition.

The more chaos in the city, the worse for Hong Kong, but the better for the authorities who will now have more reason to tighten the reins.

A chaotic environment will allow them to be more aggressive in rolling out pro-Beijing policies and thus earn the confidence of top leaders in Beijing.

Not all Hong Kong people are HKU graduates, but they share in the achivements and glorious history of the university.

What would happen to this precious heritage if it is thrown into the mire of politics?

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EJ Insight writer